7. Women in the Tinworks
[image: Tinplate Workers, Swansea, 1900]
Tinplate workers at Swansea in the 1900s. The rolling of the sheets of tinplate was done by men, but many women were also employed to separate the sheets during rolling. This was done using sword-like tools known as hangars.
The times was so bad that they had to live keen. And there was no money about. When a girl like my mother was working for a week in the tinworks for six shillings, and handling weight, and the heat of the tinworks - well, they lived very keen. Frugal, more or less, didn't they? No luxury at all. What did they have, isn't it?
What were the girls doing in the tinworks then?
Opening - Oh, several. If they were in the mills, they would open the plates. If they were in the tin house, they were putting them - before the machinery came more modern - putting the bran over the plates, not for them to catch. And everything like that was a girl's job, not a man's. Anything what they considered a light job, that was a girl's job. Tending in the pickling, carrying plates, not so heavy as the mill plates. All the - The mill plates, they were having them - Well, you had to be - There you are, it was hard work for a woman. Well, duw, duw! They'd think you were insane now if you worked like that, mun! When you couldn't walk home, you was too tired to walk home 'cause of the sweat you'd lost. Couldn't eat your food, couldn't sleep, too tired to sleep, too hungry to eat. It was - it was hard work mun! Well only donkeys would do it - uh - Duw, duw! A girl would think you were out of your mind if you did - if you asked a girl to do that now, mun! Arglwydd mawr! It was degrading, wasn't it? To see women working to that extent. But that's how it was.
A lot of the girls did it though.
Oh, well that was the only work here. My mother was in the tinworks, Mary Benjamin in the tin house, Auntie Maggie Jane in the tin house. That was the only work - Some were lucky to have a job in a shop. Or have a trade sewing. Otherwise you had no - well, they couldn't take you all. There wasn't enough shops in Morriston. If you had fifty, fifty shops that were taking girls - that's all there was. Duw duw! Hard work! Men working - women working like men. Coming home - you could see them taking their shirts and dress off, and squeezing the perspiration out of it like - like running out of a tap. Well, if you saw girls working to that extent now ...
Cecil Lewis, born Morriston, Swansea, 1913.
MWL archive no. 7244. Recorded 1986.